For creative people, feedback is essential but often painful to hear. Our columnist Kirsty Logan shares some tips for taking it on board without throwing a strop...
July is creeping on, and instead of looking forward to all the columns I have yet to write, I’m starting to count down the few I have left.
Have I made the most of this opportunity? What do I really, really want to say to the world? And so the time has come, my friends, for me to put on my Serious Hat and talk to you about a subject dear to my heart: taking criticism.
I have spent my life being guided by the fabulous and occasionally terrifying Mama Logan. She taught me vital things like saying please and thank you, not saying anything at all if you can’t say something nice, and – most important of all – shutting up occasionally.
Sadly, not everyone has their own Mama Logan. This is why every day we see artists bitching, whining and being passive aggressive on social networks and blogs, often going back to delete the snarky comments later. But by then it’s far too late: on the internet, everything is forever.
I’m sure we’ve all heard about author Jacqueline Howett’s vicious attack on a less-than-favourable review of her book (and if you haven’t, you must read it – particularly as her book is titled The Greek Seaman). There’s even a specific GoodReads list of authors who have thrown well-publicised temper tantrums, so that readers can avoid their books. I’ve made plenty of mistakes as a writer, but thanks to Mama Logan I’ve never thrown a strop of that magnitude.
And so, with much thanks to my mum, here is my advice on how to take criticism:
- Detach. A criticism of your work is not a slight on you as a person.
- Remember that we all have opinions. There are over seven billion people in the world, and everyone thinks differently. For everyone who doesn’t like your work, there are others who will.
- Keep it offline. If something really irks you, then feel free to vent to your best mate over a bottle of wine (or two). But in the name of all that is holy, resist the urge to bitch online. Even if your blog or Facebook is private, it can still come back to bite you. And if you’re tempted to rage without mentioning names, know that passive aggressive updates are super annoying.
- Look on the bright side. This is an opportunity for you to improve. You might not agree with the criticism, but could a tiny part of it be valid? Perhaps your work can occasionally be a smidge self-indulgent, or obtuse, or lazy. Don’t take it all to heart, but use it to make better art next time. And if you can’t wring any use out of the comments themselves, just think of it as a chance to be graceful and become a better person. Sometimes it’s crap being an adult, but we all have to grow up eventually.
- It’s not about you. If someone is unrealistically harsh about your work, or makes personal attacks, they’re just venting. They’re insecure, and it’s just unlucky that you got in the way. If they weren’t slagging off you, then it would be someone else. Shake off the haters and they’ll eventually sink into the mire of failure where they belong.
And really, that’s all it takes! The ability to accept criticism gracefully is a vital part of being a professional artist. Once your work starts to get noticed, it’s guaranteed that someone will slag it off – and throwing your toys out of the pram will get you a bad reputation faster than a rusk dissolves in milk. Just remember what your mother (or rather, my mother) taught you, and you’ll be fine.
... on reclaiming spaces
... on haters
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